Housing bust hits some counties, prices harder

August 25, 2008
The squishy Indianapolis-area residential real estate market has come to this:

-Sluggish though it is, the region hasn't been hit as hard as the nation as a whole.

-Sellers have the greatest advantage if their house is priced below $75,000 or if the house is in Hendricks County.

-Buyers have the most leverage if the house is priced over $1 million or if the house is in Morgan County.

That's the upshot as of the end of the second quarter, according to figures compiled by the Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors, a trade group of real estate brokers and agents.

The median sale price in the 13-county area was $122,000 in the second quarter. That was down 3.1 percent from the record high of $126,000 logged in the second quarters of both 2006 and 2007.

Nationally, prices have taken a more severe drubbing. The $206,500 median in the second quarter was down 6.2 percent from the second-quarter peak of $125,900.

Still, MIBOR President David Bickell said markets are digesting excesses from the housing bust.

"That excess supply is being worked through very nicely," said Bickell, who operates ReMax Real Estate Group in Indianapolis. "We're pretty near the bottom."

Figures supplied by MIBOR and the National Association of Realtors don't match exactly, but the trends they illustrate are similar.

The second-quarter figures are considered more accurate than the July figures released today because the additional time allows for a few final sales to be recorded.

July sales plunged 21 percent, to 9,502 units, from July 2007, MIBOR reported. The median sale price fell 3 percent, to $124,500.

In the second quarter, the health of the Indianapolis-area market varied dramatically from county to county and among various price points.

The only county where sale prices are still climbing is Hamilton, where the median hit $197,211 in the second quarter.

Hancock, Madison and Marion counties are seeing falling prices. Marion County, which has been hit hard by the foreclosure crisis, is on the skids, trending down since at least 2004, to a median of $95,000 in the most recent quarter - compared to $109,000 in the same period four years earlier.

As is often the case regardless of the condition of the housing market, the least-expensive houses are in the greatest demand.

What's different now is that low-priced housing is the only category with shrinking inventories. Only seven months' worth of inventory is available for houses priced at $75,000 or less; that's the tightest supply in the price range since at least 2005.

People wanting to unload a house at $1 million or more are likely to wait a long time. The category has a 47-month supply, much more than the recent second-quarter low of 32 months, in 2006.

Narrowing supplies of the least-expensive houses suggest the bottom of the real estate bust may be near, said Jeff Kucic, a broker with Kucic Associates Keller Williams Realty, which has offices at Geist and covers the north side of the Indianapolis area.

The market will recover from the bottom as the houses sell, positioning owners to trade up to houses costing more, Kucic said.

Still, he said there isn't enough information yet to declare that the downturn is over.

"We're in the mucky bottom," Kucic said. "We're up one day and down the next."

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